Date of birth: 19/10/65
Place of birth: Christchurch
Club: Elmwood Park
Year started bowling: 1985/86 season
Cap number: 76
International debut: 1989
National titles: 14 (singles 1989 & 1994, pairs 1997, 2008, 2010, 2017 & 2018 and fours 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2004, 2018 & 2020)
World Bowls medals: 2 golds (pairs & fours 2008) 1 silver (triples 2004) & 2 bronze (fours 1996 & 2004)
Occupation: Runs a building company
Interests outside bowls: Spending time with his family, keeping fit
Gary Lawson is the country’s most decorated national championship bowler, having amassed a record 14 New Zealand titles across five decades. He’s also collected five world championship medals, including two golds, despite a stop/start international career.
Lawson was “chucking them down” when he was at primary school as his dad Stan was a keen bowler and national champion, having won the singles title in 1968. But it wasn’t until after high school that his son started taking the sport seriously. When he did, he burst on to the domestic scene, making the semi-finals of his second nationals in 1988 as a 22-year-old. 12 months later Lawson won his maiden national title, emulating his father by winning the singles crown. He made his international debut that same year, but it was not until after he won a further three New Zealand titles that he became established in the national squad.
Lawson won the fours in 1993 and the singles and fours in 1994, convincing selectors to name him in the New Zealand team for the Victoria Commonwealth Games. He returned from Canada empty-handed but after a third national fours title in 1996 he was selected for his first world championships in Adelaide. Lawson and Rowan Brassey narrowly missed out on a medal in the pairs, but he claimed a bronze in the fours with Andrew Curtain, David File and Peter Belliss.
It was another eight years before Lawson represented New Zealand at a major international event, after claiming his fifth fours title in 2004. He was selected to compete at the world championships at the home of the game in Scotland. He had to settle for silver in the triples, after he, Brassey and Sean Johnson were beaten by the hosts in the final, while the four, also featuring Paul Girdler, took home bronze.
He then had high expectations when the bowls world returned down under for the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games. “I was playing the best I had for a long time.” But Lawson then got sick and his triple lost to eventual champions Australia in a tie-break in the quarter-finals. “I was playing on one leg as the saying goes.”
Attentions quickly turned to the world championships in his home town of Christchurch at the start of 2008. Lawson was back in the pair and struck up an immediate partnership with Russell Meyer, losing just one match on their way to beating Scotland in the final. “I always wanted to win a world title…and when Russell and I won the pairs it was just awesome, it was unbelievable.” A week later Lawson and Meyer were double world champions, joining Richard Girvan and Andrew Todd to win gold in the fours, after going through section play unbeaten. His double gold helped the New Zealand men win the Leonard Trophy.
Just 19 months later Gary Lawson went from the penthouse to the outhouse. The four he skipped at the 2009 Asia Pacific Championships in Malaysia was accused of a throwing a match against Thailand. After an ugly public spat with officialdom Lawson fell on his sword and made himself unavailable for the Delhi Commonwealth Games so the rest of the four could be selected. He didn’t represent New Zealand again for another 10 years.
It denied him the chance to play at the 2012 world champs in Adelaide and the 2016 worlds back in Christchurch. “I’ve missed two world championships where I would have probably had really good opportunities to win more titles or at least medal.”
During his international hiatus, Lawson won a further four national titles and matched the late great Nick Unkovich’s then record of 10 in 2010. “That was pretty special. It was always the goal to get to 10, once I got to five. I beat Unkovich in the final of the fours to get my fifth and then to match him to get 10 was awesome.”
After the second “siesta” of his career Lawson reminded selectors he still remains a force to be reckoned with, winning both the pairs and the fours in 2018. The latter title he won with Blackjacks regulars Shannon McIlroy and Ali Forsyth and while he was overlooked for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games later that year he was recalled to the New Zealand team for the 2019 Asia Pacific Championships at the same venues. He marked his return by winning gold with McIlroy in the pairs.
The 2020 world championships has been his focus since and he was selected to compete in the pairs and fours on the Gold Coast. The tournament has been postponed 12 months.